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  • Writer's pictureRon Jaworski

Brands that rocked audio ads in 2020

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

If there’s one positive development in the 2020 advertising world to single out, it’s the constant progress audio is making. This year has clearly shown that audio advertising continues to enjoy the spotlight as the emerging advertising platform. Our data shows the total audio ad completion rate is 91%, which means most listeners listen to an audio advertisement in full. You have to admit – that rarely happens in advertising.

The fact is that audio is an inexpensive space for brand awareness, which is why more and more of them are doubling down on audio/giving it a first time go. Some of the world’s mega brands, and some lesser known did a really good job of pleasing their audience’s ears – enough for us to crown them the audio ads rockstars of 2020. Take a listen.


I begin with an example of a minimalistic approach to audio ads. The Japanese auto manufacturer created a series of 30-second ads for its new Subaru Forester. The focus is on the safety and various tech features of Subaru’s first self-charging hybrid (a point made in every ad) but without the usual pomp. There’s minimal use of accompanying sounds – it’s all about the narrator and the witty copy that’s been slightly reworked each time to accentuate a different feature.

In doing so, Subaru manages to streamline the listener’s attention to the compact SUV by helping them hear exactly what the USP is without the risk of it getting lost in a sea of sounds. Sometimes, less is more.

Michelob Ultra

In one of the more innovative moves in audio advertising this year, Michelob Ultra recently announced The Michelob Playlist Maker on Spotify in Canada. Interestingly, it’s Spotify’s first-ever dynamic advertising campaign in the country.

It’s not so much about the content here as much as it is about the approach to audio advertising. The feature allows users to create personalized playlists when running based on factors such as distance, intensity, and location. In return, runners will hear customized ads from the beer company based on location, time of day, and type of weather.

I haven’t tried Michelob’s low-carb, low-calorie beer so I can’t really say if it’s something that will appeal to health-conscious runners in Canada. What I can say is that pairing running with listening is an amazing way to create a routine. When you account for the fact that it will be supported with a personalized experience through targeted ad messaging, you end up with a winning combination to easily grab attention.

Pizza Hut and Xaxis India

Let’s switch to voice ads for a minute. The combined forces of Pizza Hut and Xaxis India ran a campaign that enables a voice response to the streamed audio ads, making for a truly interactive experience. The goal was to provide a more focused online ordering experience by delivering different creatives at lunchtime and at dinner time. In other words – appeal to a digital-centric audience with the most relevant creatives to drive orders.

I highly suggest you take a peek at the case study, especially because you can get a full picture of how layouts of interactive ads are done and how triggers for specific responses work. It’s a great example of how brands can drive personalization in a changing media market.

In the end, the campaign delivered a voice engagement rate of 2.2%. More impressive is the way alike audio segments can be scripted and designed to capture the listener’s imagination. They feel as genuine content, which is essentially integrated brand messaging that fits within regular content or acts as such. It’s yet another testament to the versatility of audio ads and a variety of ad formats brands can easily leverage for their brand messaging purposes.

The Smoke Free Israel Initiative

Showing a little love for a local organization with a great mission and an equally great audio campaign. It’s a clever use of the ongoing pandemic (the campaign’s name is ‘Don’t infect yourself with this pandemic’), adding a nice “twist” to the message at hand and simultaneously creating a sinister-like mood. It’s one of those seamless ads that manages to convey its messages by devising an approach that caters to the individual brand’s needs, all the while riding the momentum of the current situation.

I’ve previously written what makes a winning audio ad based on my humble experience in the AdTech and audio industry, and this ad checks almost all the boxes. Perhaps my bias as a former smoker plays somewhat of a role in my emotional attachment here but there’s no denying that the immersive nature of the medium plays a role too. With listening, there is likely to be less distraction as it immediately occupies direct attention. When targeting an audience who cares about a particular topic (in this case, smoking prevention efforts in Israel), audio branding becomes a quick win for brands. So, it’s more important than ever that brands “speak” to their audience.

Sonos’ sonic logo

Not quite packaged as standard audio ads but this is just too good not to mention + technically, it’s a brand rocking audio through sonic branding so all good, right?

Thanks to Philip Glass (acclaimed composer and the guy behind that creepy music you’ve heard countless times), the premium audio company now has a specific sound associated with the brand. Here’s the extended version:

There’s an entire sonic toolkit that will be used to define the brand’s sonic identity. As a renowned audio hardware player moving to digital spaces, having a sonic logo makes all the sense for Sonos. For a company that’s “obsessed with sound”, it’s a necessary but subtle move that will effectively embed the brand in the listening experience across multiple devices and platforms.

On a side note: I have always wondered why there isn’t more of this when it comes to smart speaker manufacturers, for instance. Imagine Echo dropping a few seconds of distinct audio (kind of like what Pandora did) that you’d unmistakably identify as Amazon whenever you use one of the company’s services. Or just having that Netflix-like boot up sound whenever you turn on the device, open a streaming service, or something similar? That’s a story for another time and place but suffice to say, I like a lot what Sonos has done.

Notable mentions: Dove

In the not-quite-audio-ads category, Dove and Pandora partnered to launch the Tropical Moods SoundEscape. It’s a collection of tropics-inspired sounds that include light rain, djembe drum beats, bird chirrups, and more inspired by the fragrance of Dove’s Mango & Almond Butter Collection. The idea is that by guiding listeners through the sounds of a tropical background, they can turn their showers and baths into private escapes of some sort.

In doing so, Dove has inserted itself in the wide space of self-care during the pandemic by creating a relaxing, innovative audio experience that improves the connection between the brand and the listener. In that regard, the two companies also created the Sunset Paradise Mixtape, a complementary music station that features upbeat and energizing music. The immersive element is based on the notion that audio plays a significant part in shaping sensory perception, thus helping the brand engage and connect with consumers on a deeper level.

Another notable mention: Oral-B

In a similar fashion, Oral-B introduced an audio campaign in November called Magical Power of Brushing aimed at kids in India. It’s a compilation of 10 custom tracks in English and Hindi, intended for the little ones to brush along to.

It’s a creative and cute way to put a brand/brushing at the heart of the action. As a father of three, I can verify that kids are big on stories and exclusive experiences, whether they are virtual or not. Looking at it from a consumer perspective, it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to build a healthy habit for your children, especially this one. Kudos to Oral-B for occupying that space.

Final thoughts

As you can hear, there have been some amazing advertisements and campaigns this year that delighted and continue to delight ears across the globe.

Even though digital audio advertising is still in its initial phase, the opportunity is massive and more importantly – genuine. The medium is inexpensive which is what will further drive audio innovation and subsequently, brand adoption. The lack of heavy costs means brands can freely experiment with delivering their creative efforts in a new but familiar way.

In a growingly saturated advertising environment, consumers have high, often unrealistic expectations for ads targeted at them. Audio works incredibly well in that regard due to its intimate and immersive nature that leverages storytelling. As a result, people don’t feel like they are being bombarded with promotional and marketing messages. With more and more people getting used to listening, we can expect a more diverse range of stories and experiences that will create the feeling of being directly spoken to by the brand.

It was fun listening through a number of ads (and trying to remember the ones I heard while streaming) and highlighting all the creative capabilities audio offers – so much so that I will be making this an annual post. As audio’s importance keeps growing in the advertising world, I’m positive next year’s crop will be even better. The foundations for brands to use dynamic and immersive audio are there – now it’s just a matter of building upon them and figuring out how best to exploit the medium.

Audio credits:

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